It was a pleasantly warm evening for strolling the increasingly ambient streets of Conroe, Texas that surround the courthouse and the lovely Crighton Theatre. Art galleries now abound, and one of them, the Linda Watson Gallery (beside the Crighton on Main Street), invited theatergoers that passed by to enjoy a bit of wine & cheese and have a look at the exquisite acrylic paintings on display from artist, David M. Bridges. If you are passing by on your way to the show I am about to recommend, stop in for a visit and don’t miss the remarkable “Many Faces” painting of an American Indian. But let us move on now to the main event: The Stage Right production of Ted Swindley’s “Always…Patsy Cline.”
This show will cheer you, warm your heart, and offer a bonanza of tunes that will stay with you long after the curtain falls. It’s a couple of days now since I enjoyed an SRO performance on the opening weekend, and I can’t seem to get the lovely song “Back in Baby’s Arms,” out of my head.
Based on a true story, this lovely edition of the long running hit is smoothly directed by Jim Bingham and stars Mary Allen-Keating as Patsy, with fun filled assistance from Carolyn Corsano Wong as Patsy’s Houston area friend and correspondent, Louise Seger.
They shared letters for a long time, and those letters and that friendship became the basis for this darling show.
Crighton’s master carpenter, Wade Gonsoulin, has provided a fine all-in-one set depicting a barn-red Grand Ole Opry center stage, offset by the bar of the Esquire Ballroom to the right, the kitchen in Louise’s home at left, and the microphone setup for Miss Patsy front and center. The fine, six-piece country-swing Bobcats Band (the musicians all share the name Bob) is onstage throughout the performance and adds immeasurably to the success of the show. Patsy opens with a bright and breezy “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round,” and follows with the “Back in Baby’s Arms” that haunts me still. She’s dressed in a pretty red western cowgirl outfit that could have been stolen from Dale Evans (Head Costumer, Kathleen Zaritski), and Louise was equally in step with black leather western wear with crimson fringed highlights.
With the song, “Anytime,” there is a flashback to Patsy’s radio days (don’t miss her hilarious impression of Arthur Godfrey), and then suddenly she appears in a shimmering charcoal gray dress for a lush and sassy, “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Just as suddenly she is back on stage in chic black slacks and blue sweater for a vibrant, “I Fall to Pieces.” When she first meets Louise out at the old Houston area Esquire Ballroom she is dressed in an elegant pink silk suit with sparkling earrings, and begins that performance with an especially rich, “Honky Tonk Angel.” Punctuating the various scenes is a sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant narrative of memories from Louise herself, and Miss Corsano Wong brings plenty of laughs to that effort with the comic flair for which she is well known at Crighton. There followed a hand-clappin’, “Come on In,” before the next costume change brought Patsy out in a glittering gold dress for a soaring rendition of, “You’re Cheatin’ Heart.” Then a sassy delivery of “Stupid Cupid” pleasantly reminded me of a special night back in the 1960’s when I found myself in an orchestra seat next to Connie Francis for the Opening Night of “Judy Garland at the Palace,” in New York.
As Act One wound down, there was a warm, embracing, “You Belong to Me,” and a vibrant, “San Antonio Rose,” that had Louise out in the audience to dance a few of the gents up the aisle. During Patsy’s perky “Lovesick Blues,” Louise showed her skill at dancing TheTwist before the audience was excused for Intermission.
Act Two begins with a very sweet “Sweet Dreams,” and moves quickly to songs of heartache that include, “She’s Got You,” “Crazy,” “Seven Lonely Days,” and “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray.” (In defense of cigarettes one of the gals quips, “It’s the tar in these things that’s holding my lungs together.”) There is a tender lullaby of, “If I Could See the World (Through the Eyes of a Child),” and a prayerful and touching, “Just a Closer Walk.” There was plenty of pizzazz in the cute duet of “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” followed by, “Gotta Lotta Rhythm in My Soul,” and a rambunctious “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” that may have had a few too many antics accompanying the number. Things calm down nicely for a mellow and thoughtful, “Faded Love,” the hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” a perfect closer with, “True Love,” and an upbeat encore of, “Bill Bailey.” In years gone by I had seen this delightful show in both New York and Houston, but I have to say that on this occasion it was very nice to be, “Back in Baby’s Arms.”
ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE continues at Conroe’s Crighton Theatre through March 6th with performances Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. For tickets and information call 936-441-SHOW (7469), or visit the website at www.stage-right.org/.